Africa is a melting pot for not only wildlife and spectacular scenery but of people, customs and traditions. Different people from various areas have different customs so it’s important to familiarize with the local cultures and show respect for their practices. However, one thing all African people have in common is their warm welcoming and hospitality.
Let’s look at some of the most fascinating customs.
- Lip stretching by the Surma tribe in Sudan
- Sun block
- Living with animals
- Bride Price
Unlike the Western culture where people greet each other by hugging and kissing each other on the cheeks once or twice, in Africa we do handshakes. The handshakes are a show of respect to the other person. When greeting an elder or someone important, the other hand is placed on the upper arm as a show of respect to the person you are greeting.
When a girl becomes a teenager in this tribe, she begins the process of lip stretching. Her lower teeth are removed to make space for a lip late. The size of the plate increases gradually as she gets used to having it.
This is common among most African tribes only the dancing styles that differ. In Africa we dance to everything. After birth we dance, during Initiation we dance, celebrating marriage we dance, and even during funerals we dance. Nothing beats the rhythm of African drums and feet stumping on the ground. Like I said earlier, what differ are the styles. Different people have different styles of dancing for different occasions. But basically Africans love dancing. The most famous is the Maasai dance. This does not involve drums but vocals and jumping high in the sky with the heels not touching the ground. The one that jumps the highest is the strongest warrior and mostly impresses the girls.
Most African tribes especially the pastoralists live in dry areas with scorching sun. And like everyone else they know too much sun can damage the skin. The women cover their skin especially their faces with a sun block made from mud or butter and oil which acts as sunscreen but also for beauty purposes. That is why you will see them covered with a reddish paste.
The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania and the Pokot tribe are “cow people”. They live with their cattle and it is their major source of livelihood. The number of cows hone has is a measure of wealth. It also determines the number of women a man can marry for the Pokot tribe.
In most African tribes, the groom must pay a price in order to get the bride. The two families, groom’s and bride’s negotiate on the amount and only after the groom’s family has paid the agreed price that he can take the bride. The price varies from tribe to tribe, some ask for cows or goats while others it’s just cash. This is a custom that has lived through time, even for the most westernized groups, bride price has remained part of the marriage process.
Initiation is the process of leaving childhood and entering puberty as young adults. For girls, as soon as they reach puberty they become adults but for the boys it’s different. Some go for circumcision at this age, mostly done in wee mornings. The procedure is done without anesthetic so the pain is unbearable but the boy must endure it otherwise any expressions of pain bring dishonor. The event is celebrated by dance in many tribes. For the Turkana tribe in Kenya, to become a man, the teenager has to kill an animal using a spear in one throw. Once it’s done, the kill is slaughtered and the insides of the stomach are smeared on his body as a way of blessing him.
Family is an important unit in Africa. Family to them includes the extended family unlike the western culture which considers only the immediate members. Important decisions in most African tribes require elders to gather and discuss and provide a way forward. Events are celebrated by the whole family therefore they are usually a bit noisy. African elders are treated with respect and their decisions treated with utmost seriousness. These are just a few of fascinating African traditions. Book our cultural safaris here our cultural safaris and get to experience them yourself.